Blanchot's "Impossible" Kafka

By Polgar, Antoine J. | CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Blanchot's "Impossible" Kafka


Polgar, Antoine J., CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture


Maurice Blanchot formulates a theory of the impossibility of writing by directing our attention to Kafka's struggles with the demands of writing and life. His reference to the "impossible" seems to be a fatalistic expression of the writer's sadness facing the futility of the act of writing: "It is as if the possibility that my writing represents essentially exists to express its own impossibility--the impossibility of writing constitutes my sadness" (The Work of Fire 19-20). The concept of the impossibility of writing can refer to several things: to a condition that cannot exist, to the negation of the act, to writing as an ordeal, or all of the above. Blanchot notes that "the disaster" of Kafka's fragmented legacy "send(s) us back endlessly to the truth outside of literature." Then he warns against confusing this truth with the literature itself and attributes the oscillating interpretation between Kafka's life and stories to the writer's propensity to embed his "commentarial language" into a metafiction (2). Where does the antithesis between writing and its impossibility lead us? I claim that if "the disaster" is the truth outside literature, the theory that the impossibility of writing defines a philosophy of writing becomes a thought lacking in equivalence between writing and the disaster.

In the study at hand, I challenge Blanchot's claims about the impossibility of writing and discuss correspondences between Kafka's life and writing. I confine myself to Kafka's short stories because I have found traces of correspondence between the life and the texts yet unmentioned in scholarship about Kafka's texts. Blanchot raises the question of survival as a metaphor for writing and writing as a metaphor for survival. He refers to the survival of the writer, of literature, and of survival itself. He combines them in a meta-commentary on the writer's facticity and the contingency to which literary creation is consigned. His preoccupation with Kafka reflects an intense bio-critical interest--which the scholar is cautioned against and often ignores--in Kafka's lived experience. Today we seek to lessen our insecurity like those who set their watches in Prague by the firing of the Marienschanze gun and the raising of the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at mid-day at the beginning of the twentieth century (see Grusa 9).

Blanchot approaches the question of this superior force tentatively. His notion of the enigmatic sacrifice in Kafka's writing leads him to shift focus away from writing (the original subject of his speculations) to futility like a doubting Abraham uncertain as to whether he had a son to sacrifice (Work of Fire 15). We grow old waiting for Blanchot to explain his uncertainty as we stand at the gate waiting for admittance to the Law. Then Blanchot shuts the gate in our faces (Before the Law 3-4; all short texts by Kafka are in The Complete Stories). Kafka's characters are conspicuous symbols of detritus, trying to fight their way through a throng with a message from an Emperor, an important dead man. The messenger will never get through (An Imperial Message 5). His characters are cockroaches thrown out by the charwoman so that the family can be saved (Metamorphosis 89); they are dedicated executioners impaled on their own torture machines (In the Penal Colony 140); the waking dead whose sayings nobody will read (The Hunter Gracchus 230). The predicaments in which Kafka's characters find themselves suggests that if one could understand the outcome of the stories, understanding would betray an enigma: "That is why we understand it only by betraying it" (The Work of Fire 11). Yet Blanchot's references to quotidian aspects of Kafka's life and his dialogical speculations on the survival of the writer and the text, subject the reader to an infinite indeterminacy. The "as if" is a figural metaphor of the desire to escape from facticity (The Work of Fire 19). But Kafka's life cannot be recovered where this hope is buried alive in the tomb of duration. …

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